Understanding The Role of A Mental Health Nurse

March 3, 2015

A mental health nurse works with individuals across all ages and walks of life, using advanced behavioural therapies to help heal them mentally and physically. They care for patients suffering from a wide range of mental illnesses, dysfunctions and mental disorders including depression, bipolar disorder, psychosis and schizophrenia amongst others. Some patients may require counselling for a short period of time whereas others may require regular counselling as part of their healthcare regimen.

Students all ready for a day on the hospital wards! Not all patients that a mental health nurse treats are mentally ill however. Many of their patients may be victims of abuse or they may be coping with grief, chemical dependency or emotional difficulties either in their own home or in a nursing home.

As a mental health nurse, you could work in hospitals, private practices, community health centres or clinics where you would help counsel patients individually or in groups. Some patients may be in special locked psychiatric units. Depending on your place of work, you may also need to perform regular nursing duties while evaluating patients’ psychological response to certain medications or treatment.

Some of the duties you would perform as a mental health nurse include:

  • Observing and assessing patients who are mentally ill
  • Administering medication and observing if the medication seems to be working positively
  • Recommending a variety of activities and programmes for patients to participate in
  • Supporting patients who are participating in behaviour modification programmes
  • Paying home visits to house-bound patients
  • Educating and liaising with patients’ families
  • Acting as patient advocate and ensuring that every patient receives the most appropriate treatment for their particular condition

Education & Training Requirements

If you are interested in pursuing a career in mental health nursing, you will need to first become a licensed RN or registered nurse.

Coursework in a Registered Nurse program will cover a wide variety of nursing-related science courses including physiology, nutrition, chemistry, anatomy, microbiology and psychology.

In addition to the standard nursing courses, you would also learn topics like developmental psychology, grief counselling, chemical dependency and case report writing,

Once you complete your nursing degree, you must pass the licensing exam, which allows you to practice.

Certification is not mandatory but it is a highly recommended step in your nursing education. Being certified demonstrates that your skills and knowledge are up to date and meet national standards. However, it is not something you pursue immediately after graduation. Aim to get your certification after you’ve gotten an entry-level job in this specialty and have gotten at least a few months experience under your belt. 

You will need to hold an active RN license, a minimum of 2 years experience as an RN and 2,000 hours clinical experience in mental health nursing in the last three years to be able to sit for the certification exam. It does require a lot of extra effort and study but you can be sure it will pay off in higher salaries, increased confidence, advanced skills, and professional respect.

Job Outlook

Like all nursing specialties, the job outlook for behavioural nursing is very good and demand for these highly specialised nurses is likely to keep growing in the foreseeable future.